Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera: A Hands-on Review
Gregory Gross

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera: A Hands-on Review

A small, easy-to-use, and nimble performer, the Canon EOS M50 mirrorless camera punches above its weight.

Canon M50

By no means is this an exhaustive technical review. There are already so many of those out there including this one by Digital Photography Review, a writeup that influenced my own decision to buy a Canon M50. Rather than duplicate those articles, this piece describes my own particular experience using this camera in a real-world, hands-on way.

I took somewhat of an indirect route toward buying my Canon M50.

How I Ended Up with a Canon EOS M50

Canon M200
Canon EOS M200 mirrorless camera.

Back in the fall of 2020 after months of deliberation, I decided to graduate up from the world of point-and-shoot photography and jump into the world of interchangeable lens cameras. In addition to looking for something with the same basic form factor as the point-and-shoot Canons I had been using for years, I sought the added ability to remove the camera lens. Eventually I took the plunge and purchased a new Canon EOS M200, a budget-oriented camera with a cropped APS-C sensor.

As an amateur astronomer, I was especially keen to try a bit of photography with my Questar telescope. As a long-time Canon user, I wanted a camera with a familiar design that was also lightweight enough for me to attach to my scope without burdening it. Surveying the market, it became clear to me that my choice was the Canon M200.

Canon M200 coupled with Questar telescope
My Canon M200 coupled with my Questar telescope.

Apart from its intended purpose as a camera that paired with my Questar, I also used my Canon M200 for general photography. During the first year I owned it, my only lens was the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens that came with it. The results I got from that camera and lens combo were just fine—not great but instead just fine.

Little did I know during that early phase in my journey as a photographer that a camera’s lens was such a critical piece of the puzzle. I wised up considerably by the summer of 2021, when I bought an adapter to go between my camera body and a trio of 1950s-era German lenses that I had for a Praktina film SLR. It was the first time I ever used anything other than my kit zoom lens with my camera. The experience taught me how much character different lenses could give my photography.

Meike lenses
Meike 35mm f/1.7 and 25mm f/1.6 lenses.

A few more acquisitions that summer contributed to my education. A pair of relatively inexpensive Meike manual lenses for Canon’s EOS-M mount only underscored the importance of lenses even more. And thanks to Ben Long’s Complete Digital Photography, I learned the basics of digital photography and filled in countless gaps in my skill set. (See my review of this book for more.)

With a good selection of manual lenses that I used with my Canon M200, I fell in love with the process of slowing down and being more deliberative with my image composition, and my interest in further developing my abilities as a photographer grew stronger. Although it continued to serve its purpose as a camera that I used regularly with my telescopes, I began to feel that my M200 was also holding me back as I continued to explore photography more broadly.

Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 lens adapted to my Canon M50 camera
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 lens adapted to my Canon M50 camera.

I had a number of other reasons to begin looking for something else. Now that I was primarily using manual-focus lenses, I found I needed a more secure grip on the camera. My M200 was so small and lightweight that I often felt like it was about to slip out of my hand. As I descended into middle age, I also began having problems with my nearsighted vision, and I found looking at a back camera monitor was becoming harder. A viewfinder, which my M200 lacked, became a necessity. And since I had already made a modest investment into gear for Canon’s EF-M mount and wanted to continue using it, I wanted a simple, easy-going camera that would minimize my outlay of cash.

It became obvious that the Canon EOS M50 fit my requirements perfectly. In the fall of 2021, about a year after I bought my M200, I had an opportunity to see how an M50 felt in my hands. With that quick first impression in mind, I acquired a used first-generation Canon M50 body in like-new condition from mpb.com. Going that route saved me hundreds of dollars over purchasing a new Canon M50 Mark II, which at the time was the current model (announced in October 2020) but which offered very few new improvements over the prior model (announced in February 2018). Upon receiving it, I was hard pressed to find any flaws with the particular camera I got, one that included its original packaging and accessories.

After about a year of using my Canon M50, I came to a good understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

Things I Don’t Like

First, the downsides.

Limited Options for Lenses

Finding criticism about Canon’s commitment to its EF-M-mount system isn’t hard, and for good reason: the number of lens options available to its users isn’t overwhelming. At the time of writing, Canon offers only seven EF-M lenses: four zooms—the 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom kit lens I already had, a pricey 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens, a 11-22mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle zoom lens that seems have questionable utility, and a 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 telephoto zoom lens—and three prime lenses—a 22mm f/2 moderate wide-angle pancake lens, a 28mm f/3.5 macro lens, and a 32mm f/1.4 normal lens.

Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens
Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens.

Indeed, APS-C enthusiasts won’t find much to be enthusiastic about in Canon’s offerings for the EF-M-mount system, which the company introduced in 2012. On the other hand, Canon seems to be putting all of their energy behind developing their full-frame RF-mount system, which appeared six years later in 2018.

Third-party options aren’t large in number, either. By the time I bought my Canon M50, I had already bought two Meike lenses for the EF-M mount: a 25mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/1.7 lens. A quick survey of what major online photography retailers offer shows that only a few other manufacturers offer lenses for EF-M-mount cameras, and those options tend to be on the value side of the quality spectrum. Unlike those who use Sony’s E-mount or Fujifilm’s X-mount cameras, Canon APS-C mirrorless photographers won’t find producers of high-end lenses like Zeiss or Voigtlander offering options for them.

If I were an aggressive gear hound with a limitless budget and a willingness to juggle countless lenses, I might be more annoyed with all of this. But the opposite is true. Since I have so thoroughly taken to using old lenses made for film SLRs and adapting them to my M50 mirrorless camera, a poor selection of native EF-M lenses isn’t really that big of a deal to me. If anything, the sparsity hems in my sense of temptation with buying more lenses that I really don’t need anyway.

Noisy Shutter

When I had my opportunity to put a Canon M50 in my hands before buying one, I really didn’t think much of the shutter noise that the camera made. Its sound, one that’s less of the mechanical “click-click” that my Canon M200 has and more of an electronic motorized “clack-schup,” is loud and obvious. The M50 is not a camera for inconspicuous street photography or for maintaining a low profile while taking candid shots. At best, you have one exposure to make before the camera’s shutter noise makes its announcement to everyone around: “Here is a guy taking pictures! Look over here!”

I have never really gotten over how noisy my Canon M50’s shutter is. If I had one compelling reason to replace it, that would certainly be it.

Things I Like

But things aren’t all bad with my Canon M50. Warts and all, I’ve grown to like using it. My list of things I’ve come to appreciate about it is much longer than my list of gripes.

Comfortable Viewfinder

As I mentioned earlier, my nearsighted vision is starting to give me problems. Being able to bring my camera to my eye rather than hold it out in front of me and compose my image on a back monitor is a requirement that became more apparent not long after I had gotten my Canon M200.

The 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder on the Canon M50 has a generous 22mm of eye relief, the minimum distance one’s eye needs to be from the viewfinder in order to take in the entire field of view.

As an eyeglasses wearer, I’ve found that having adequate viewfinder eye relief (also referred to as eye placement) is one of the most critical yet one of the most ignored specs out there. When evaluating other cameras, I often have to hunt around for it. This surprises me; I can’t be the only one out there with this need.

Fully Articulating Monitor

Canon M50 coupled with Questar telescope
My Canon M50 coupled with my Questar telescope.

I’ve found that having a digital camera with a fully articulating monitor, one that opens like a door before pivoting up and own, is far more preferrable than having one that swings out and up. The reason behind this is perhaps consistent with my love for using old lenses: 99% of the time, I keep the back monitor of my Canon M50 folded in, and I rarely use it.

But when I do need to flip the back monitor out, it’s nice to have a versatile way to position it for whatever shooting situation I find myself in.

Electronic Front Curtain Shutter

Although this isn’t clearly articulated in Canon’s documentation, an omission I find a bit bewildering, a visual assessment of the shutter tells me that both my Canon M200 and my M50 have an electronic front curtain shutter (EFCS).

Essentially, an EFCS-equipped camera electronically activates the sensor when it begins to make an exposure. A physical shutter curtain falls in front of the sensor to complete the exposure. The lack of a physically moving front shutter curtain at the beginning of the exposure prevents the camera from being jarred right when the exposure begins being made. This feature is especially useful for the kind of high-power telescopic photography I do with my Questar.

I have found, however, that my M200 seems to do a better job with continuous shutter drive mode compared to what my M50’s higher-speed shutter drive does. This is particularly true when I have either camera connected to a telescope when I’m photographing fast-moving subjects like hummingbirds at the backyard feeder. I think the M50’s higher-speed drive actually jars the camera more than the slower and more stable M200’s continuous drive mode.

Small and Lightweight Size and Shape

My Canon M50 is large enough to fit comfortably in my hands while being small and lightweight enough to feel convenient to use and carry around. Its substantial yet compact right hand grip gives me the assurance that the camera won’t slip out of my hand even when I have my heavy adapted lenses attached to it. The back of the camera has a comfortable right thumb rest that further contributes to the M50’s comfortable handling.

Simplicity of Use

It’s easy to scrutinize a camera’s list of features and get swept up into believing that a crush of features is better. But the more complex something gets, the more cumbersome it is to use. I’ve found that, where cameras are concerned, simple is definitely better.

Mode dial on my Canon M50 mirrorless camera
The mode dial on my Canon M50 mirrorless camera.

The Canon M50 has just the right number of physical buttons that offer just the right amount of control over the camera in the field. For the kind of manual photography that I’ve grown fond of, I usually begin by setting my ISO by menu selection in a similar vein as one would drop in a roll of film with a particular ISO rating and stick with that film until it’s fully exposed. While I’m engaged in a photography session, my two other controls are readily available. With my right index finger, I work the dial surrounding the shutter button to control exposure time. The light meter indicator is clearly seen in the viewfinder, although I do find the camera sometimes hunts around for what it thinks is the right exposure time. Aperture controls are on my manual lenses themselves. For checking my focus, I reset my multi-function button, which is right next to the shutter button, to magnify my viewfinder image. Its default setting is for ISO.

Canon’s menu system is clear, logical, and easy to use. Maybe this is one of those cases where I like what I know. Still, I’d have a hard time giving up what has become a familiar menu organization if I ever went to another camera system.

Canon Camera Connect iOS App

Related to my use of my cameras with a telescope is another feature that I’ve grown to take for granted: having a smartphone app that enables me to operate the camera remotely. Taking the place of the old-fashioned shutter cable release that photographers used on older film cameras when they needed to press the shutter button without jarring the camera body, most manufacturers offer some kind of smartphone app that connects the phone to the camera via Bluetooth and that provides basic camera controls like a remote shutter button.

Canon Camera Connect iOS app
Two screenshots of the Canon Camera Connect iOS app.

Canon’s Camera Connect iOS app is simple and easy to understand. It transforms my iPhone into a remote control that I frequently use especially when I have my camera connected to my telescope.

Less robust, however, is this app’s ability to establish and maintain a stable wi-fi connection to the camera for transferring photos from the camera’s SD card to the phone. Although that’s something I don’t do all too often, I do find that, when I want to copy a handful of photos to my phone, the connection often drops out, forcing me to make another connection that seems to be more stable. I have never really figured out why it takes two attempts to establish a stable connection.

Image Quality

The entire point of a camera is to make images. Over the long term, I don’t place nearly as much value on the camera as I do on the images I make with it—the images that together are the record of my life experiences. The camera eventually gets replaced; the images I make with them endure.

Here is a very small sample of images I’ve made with my Canon M50:

Plant in sunlight
Canon M50 with Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens, 1/3200 sec., ISO 100.
Crepuscular rays
Canon M50 with Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens, 1/250 sec., ISO 100.
San Francisco
Canon M50 with Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM zoom lens, 1/5 sec., ISO 1600.

I’ve very happy with the image quality that I am able to produce with my Canon M50. Colors are true to life and don’t seem to favor one hue over another.

More recently, I’ve been shooting in black and white. There, too, my M50 offers great straight-out-of-the-camera images that I rarely need to tweak later.

Fuzzy leaves
Canon M50 with Nikkor-S 35mm f/2.8 lens, 1/200 sec., ISO 200.

In addition to using my camera in black and white mode, I’ve been shooting in raw. Having the full raw data that the camera generates when making an image has proven to be a massive benefit when I do need to make image adjustments. One lesson I’ve learned is how much data the camera throws away when it compresses images in JPEG format. Using Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional software, I’m able to brighten or darken my exposures, make white balance adjustments, or fine-tune contrast, shadows, and highlights using the raw image data all without the artifacts that become obvious when working with JPEG files.

Conclusion

A more critical person might say that Canon’s offerings are the Toyota Camrys of photography. Maybe they are. But who cares? If a camera offers as good of a level of performance that my Canon M50 does for the comparatively small price I paid for it, that translates into more of a willingness to use it.

Sometimes I feel scared to touch something for which I paid a lot of money. My M50, on the other hand, functions as I intended it to when I bought it used from mpb.com: as a camera that I don’t abuse, to be sure, but that I also am not afraid to use. And it indeed gets used a lot.

In the final analysis, my little Canon EOS M50 has proven to be an intrepid performer that has helped me practice and improve my skills as a photographer. One can’t ask much more from a camera than that.